Powerlifters Meng, Smith bonded in the sport

Longtime friends Will Smith (left) and Will Meng (right) reflect on their powerlifting experiences that not only strengthened their friendship, but shaped their character and forged a drive to challenge themselves. (Photo by Dana Delgado)

Longtime friends Will Smith (left) and Will Meng (right) reflect on their powerlifting experiences that not only strengthened their friendship, but shaped their character and forged a drive to challenge themselves. (Photo by Dana Delgado)

By Dana Delgado

A year has made a world of difference for powerlifting teammates Will Meng and Will Smith.

The Liberty Hill High School senior athletes are stronger, more motivated, and far wiser from their experiences at the Powerlifting Regional Meet in 2013 at West. Both seniors missed placing for the state meet a year ago but were encouraged by the promising season they had.

Meng finished ninth while his colleague and best friend Will Smith, who had convinced him to give powerlifting a try, came in an impressive fifth place at the highly competitive meet.

With a rigid workout regimen along with far more confidence and some senior swagger, both of the powerlifters have high hopes of advancing to the Regionals again this year and possibly qualify for the state meet from their respective weight class.   Smith is in his fourth year of lifting while Meng is in his third year.

Smith, who started out in the 220- pound weight class as a freshman and is now competing in the 275- pound weight division, says he plans to change his strategy this time around.

“I need to take more risks,” he said, “and lift higher and really challenge myself.”

“My goal is to go to state,” said a determined Meng, who has already joined the US Marine Corps and plans to enter immediately after graduation as a reconnaissance infantry soldier. “I believe I have a realistic chance and realize I can’t worry about anyone except myself in the competition. I just have to go big or go home.”

Smith, who is considering college in Colorado to pursue studies in engineering, said people don’t realize that in powerlifting the competitor is pretty much on his own with no practice schedules and plenty of self-discipline. But for him, it’s his confidence that will be key in the competition.

“The confidence part is the most important part to me,” he said.  “It helps me keep things in focus.”

Both Smith and Meng have gotten off to an excellent start this season, their final one. Meng captured first place in his weight class at the Burnet Meet and was named the event’s Best Overall Powerlifter from all the weight classes.

Smith says he was pleased with his performance at Burnet but “needs to step it up at the next meet at Lago Vista on Feb. 7” where two years ago he placed third and helped the team win top honors.

Meng said that he’s learned from experience to “expect the unexpected” and to start at a comfortable weight level and not go “too heavy.” Competition is primarily based on the overall weight lifted in three different lifting positions including squat, bench and deadlift.

At 5’5” and only weighing 115 pounds as a freshman, Meng never thought he would be a good lifter. All that changed when he won his first meet in the season opener at Lampasas in the 123-pound weight class as a sophomore.

“It felt great,” he remembers. “I told myself, I’m pretty good at this.”

Meng went on to place second at Smithville and took top honors at Lago Vista that same season, but found the weight class very competitive and did not garner enough points to advance his sophomore season.  In his junior year and in 132 pounds, Meng won his weight class competition at the Lampasas meet and qualified to the regionals because of points earned.

“Powerlifting has become a big part of my life,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in what I do. I really enjoy winning and I’ve told myself, its mine for the taking every time.”

Meng, with an infectious smile and a wide variety of other interests including playing strong safety on the Panthers’ varsity football team, playing the guitar, singing and drama, says that powerlifting has taught him many things but one in particular sticks in his mind.

“I learned that you really don’t know your limitations until you test them,” he said.  “Then you realize how much more you can really do.”

His parents, John and Virgina Meng, have supported him every step of the way, he says.

Both powerlifters have been lifelong buddies and have developed a relationship of mutual respect and support.

“We kid one another and encourage each other,” Meng said. “He is my best friend and has been since we were little kids.”

The friendship, Smith remembers, was anything but friendly when they first met in fourth grade.

“I couldn’t stand him at all,” he said. “We couldn’t stand each other until we found someone we both didn’t like, so we teamed up and became friends.”

Smith says it is bittersweet being a senior.  He says he made so many close friends whom he sacrificed with especially on the football field where he distinguished himself as a First Team All-District Defensive Lineman this past season.

“Football changed me,” he said. “It started in fifth grade on my first day with football pads.  My dad told me to be mean but it was not easy until one game in the peewees, I just leveled some kid and then I was loving it and was treated differently after that. It changed my life.”

He is grateful to all his football coaches from Head Coach Jerry Vance who taught him intensity, to Coach James Herrera who supported him, to Coach Sam Burlison who trusted him, and to his junior high school coach, Danny Knowles, who helped him tremendously in getting started but “scared” him at the same time. Mostly, he credits his parents, Gary and Keta Smith, for his success and love of life.

“My dad started it all with changing my attitude towards football and believing in me,” Smith said. “He’s really smart, a thinker and my mom has a different perspective on things, but was a big part of it all.  I always tried and will always continue to try to make them proud.”

While he will miss competing at LHHS, he plans to participate in recreational sports and snow ski, which he loves.

Both athletes are not looking to part ways after this year after such a long friendship and sacrifice together, but said that being their final year in high school they want to “leave their mark on the underclassmen especially the freshmen” and hope, just hope they have led by example.